Infertility, or the inability to conceive, has become a common problem for women- and men- in today’s society. It wasn’t too long ago that being too fertile was a woman’s primary concern. Much of a woman’s adult life used to be spent pregnant, nursing and raising children and it was all a woman could do to keep the next pregnancy at bay.
For today’s modern couples it’s the opposite. Infertility is on the rise and its cause is different for every individual. Physical abnormalities like uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, and endometriosis are some of the leading causes for infertility, but it’s often not so easy to pinpoint. That’s when a woman needs to crack her knuckles and get creative when trying to reestablish her fertility.
The Cause of Infertility
While there are MANY different causes of infertility.
Here are the easiest factors to consider:
I know you saw this one coming but it’s really important. Most couples trying to conceive are in fact undernourished. Our bodies are intelligent and it knows when there aren’t enough foundational nutrients to support a healthy pregnancy. I know you’ve heard about how losing weight increases your chances of conceiving but avoiding healthy fats and necessary proteins in order to lose weight not only disrupts vital baby-making hormones, it also deprives the body of what it needs.
How to Optimize Fertility through a Nutrient Dense Diet
1. Avoid grains
All grains contain some level of Phytic Acid. Eating grains that aren’t soaked and sprouted properly can actually prevent you from absorbing vital minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, and zinc. Eating too many grains also spikes insulin levels which disrupt hormones- a leading factor in infertility. It’s better to eat properly prepared grains in moderation or not at all when trying to conceive.
2. Avoid processed foods
Processed foods are another category to avoid. They lack essential fiber, vitamins, and minerals and tend to spike insulin levels. Avoid them as much as possible.
3. Balance your blood sugar
Insulin plays a vital role in hormone production and balance in the body. Eating too many grains, empty carbs like bread and pasta, or sugar-filled treats disrupts this balance and often leads to obesity (which can be another factor that lowers your chance of conception). The body also ends up dealing with an excess of cortisol as a result which creates stress and inflammation in the body.
4. Eat enough protein
Eat proteins from grass-fed meats, high quality organic free range eggs, avocados, and properly soaked nuts and seeds. These foods give your body meaningful energy to help keep your body balanced and your hormone levels optimal.
5. Eat fresh produce often
Getting in lots of fresh fruits and vegetables will help cleanse and rebuild your body from the inside out. Try making green juice or green smoothies to take with you to work. Add greens to every meal in order to get the nutrients your body needs to make a baby. If you can’t get in enough greens then supplement with a high-quality prenatal vitamin.
6. Include nutrient powerhouse foods
Adding in foods like liver, fish roe, mollusks (like oysters, clams, mussels, scallops, squid, and octopus), and oily fish (like sardines, salmon, and anchovies) into your diet is known to increase fertility because they contain very high levels of Vitamin A, Vitamin D, Vitamin K2, Folate, B6, and B12. Eating the foods themselves is the best way to absorb and utilize these essential nutrients.
7. Increase healthy fats
Eating healthy fats like coconut oil, olives, and EVOO, grass-fed butter, ghee, heavy cream, eggs, avocado, nuts, and seeds. If you must have dairy like milk and cheese choose high quality, organic, and grass-fed options. Raw is even better if you can find it.
Why can’t I just take a prenatal?
The thing with vitamins is, even if you find the highest quality food based prenatal out there; your body cannot absorb it completely. In fact, the body can only absorb about 40-50% of a prenatal or multi-vitamin. This is because the body either doesn’t recognize the nutrients in that form or because taking vitamins creates a sudden onslaught of nutrients in a short period of time that it can’t handle all at once. Regardless of the reason, supplements are not meant to replace nutrients you can easily get by eating a healthy diet.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t take a prenatal. They DO fill in the gaps needed day to day. You can’t expect to eat like crap, take a prenatal and expect magic to happen.
This is my favorite high-quality prenatal vitamin.
How to Optimize Fertility through a Healthy Lifestyle
Everyone knows deep down inside what a healthy lifestyle should look like, but just to reiterate, here’s what I recommend:
1. Balance your physical activity
Exercising too much or too little can wreak havoc on your fertility. Too much exercise can lead to missed periods and force the body into an anovulatory state (not ovulating). Make sure your body fat stays above 15-18% in order to keep your menstrual cycle balanced.
2. Control your stress levels
If you’re going through fertility difficulties, this is easier said than done. However, reducing stress is a great idea when trying to conceive because it will help your body focus on the tasks it needs to like proper daily detox, sifting through excess hormones, getting nutrients where they need to go, and keeping your blood sugar balanced (among a million other things). Stress just adds an unnecessary burden your body doesn’t need when trying to get pregnant.
Try and think to yourself what will make certain things in life easier that are attainable like relaxing in a hot bath, getting out in nature, or using essential oils to relax. Taking 10 drops of motherwort tincture will help calm the mind, give you clarity, and relax tension. If you need some “me time”, make it happen!
Some of my favorite natural remedies for stress have been Bach Flower Remedies:
• Aspen– for feelings of anxiety, apprehension, and fear of the unknown
• Elm– for feelings of overwhelm or inadequacy
• Mimulus– for when you are dwelling on a specific fear
• Red Chestnut– for feelings of worry about the future
• Rock Rose– best for when you are shaking, trembling or weeping due to fear
I also really love their rescue remedy.
3. Get meaningful and restful sleep
Not getting enough sleep impairs the body’s ability to regulate hormones- especially adrenalin, cortisol, and insulin. When these are out of balance conceiving becomes really difficult. Women who have low levels of melatonin also have a harder time conceiving because their luteal phase (the time between ovulation and menstruation) is shortened.
Getting meaningful sleep should be your priority if you get less than 7 hours of sleep a night.
Here are a few articles to help you get a better night’s sleep:
4. Reduce your exposure to toxins
Limiting your exposure to chemicals in your cosmetics, household cleaners, plastic water bottles, and other toxins in your environment will drastically help your body regulate its hormones. I always recommend buying the cleanest products you can or making your own when possible.
Here is an article to help get you started:
5. Use essential oils
Essential oils are powerful allies to have at your side when navigating fertility issues. Be sure to read my article Essential Oils for Fertility to learn about which oils are best for your unique situation.
The Best Herbs for Fertility in Women
In Chinese medicine, the menstrual cycle is broken up into five phases that are governed by yin and yang. In order to keep the menstrual cycle flowing seamlessly, there are certain herbs the Chinese consider especially useful during each phase. It is also believed that certain lifestyle changes during each phase help return the body to a state of normalcy and help reverse infertility.
1. Phase of Menstruation: Follicular (after menstruation ends and before ovulation begins)
Lifestyle Focus: Eat healthy fats such as grass-fed butter and drink nutrient dense homemade bone broth. Fill your diet with dark leafy greens, seaweeds, and black colored foods like black beans and black sesame seeds. Stay hydrated.
2. Phase of Menstruation: Ovulation
Lifestyle Focus: Eat iron rich foods like beets and take nettle infusions. Increase sexual activity and aerobic exercise.
3. Phase of Menstruation: Luteal (after ovulation and before the next menstrual cycle)
Lifestyle Focus: Avoid being cold and eating cold foods. Increase magnesium and zinc intake and eat grass-fed meats. Take warm relaxing baths.
4. Phase of Menstruation: Premenstrual
Lifestyle Focus: Gentle movement and emotional expression. Take walks often.
5. Phase of Menstruation: Menstrual
Lifestyle Focus: Stay comfortably warm. Get plenty of rest and eat iron-rich foods like beets, dark leafy greens, and pastured red meat.
Alfalfa is an aage-old remedy for women’s infertility associated with estrogen fluctuations. When estrogen levels are high, phytoestrogens found in alfalfa bind with receptors that block real estrogens from binding. When estrogen levels are low the phytoestrogens boost the activity of natural estrogen in the body which creates hormonal balance. In some instances, alfalfa can be used in place of red clover blossom but is not as effective.
Having toxic buildup in the body while trying to conceive is really counterproductive yet many people never consider it as a cause of infertility. Our surroundings are full of fake hormones, chemicals, and other environmental toxins that inhibit our body’s ability to keep its hormones in balance. Dandelion helps the liver remove excess waste and hormones more efficiently which in turn keeps your cycle in balance. Milk thistle is another amazing herb to take for gentle detox and hormonal balance.
A great herb for balancing a wide variety of gynecological problems, dong quai has been shown to balance estrogen activity especially in those with endometriosis. Dong quai purifies the blood and promotes healthy circulation by removing excess tissue growth, healing damaged tissues, and limiting scar tissue and adhesion formation which helps restore menstrual regularity. Dong quai is a great herb for those suffering from infertility due to uterine fibroids or polyps.
Evening Primrose Oil
If you need to improve the quality of cervical mucus (this is what helps transport sperm and keep it alive until it reaches the egg), then taking evening primrose is really going to help. This essential fatty acid helps relieve PMS and balance hormones and is best taken 12-14 days after the last day of your period.
This is my favorite evening primrose oil to use. Add it to your morning smoothie or take it straight by the spoonful.
False Unicorn Root
This herb is a bit more off the radar but it’s wonderful to use for hormone balance, amenorrhea (lack of menstrual cycle), ovarian cysts, ovarian pain, vaginal dryness, and infertility. If you can find it, false unicorn root is one of the best herbs for fertility in women.
For women who have irregular periods, licorice root may be the herb for you. Women who have PCOS can benefit from taking licorice root as it brings high testosterone levels into balance.
Maca is an incredible tonic for female fertility because it helps the body produce hormones needed for conception. Maca also increases LH (Luteinizing Hormone) allowing for regular ovulation which is super important for conceiving. I love using maca as a way to restore energy and balance hormones.
Nettles contain a wide spectrum of essential vitamins and minerals such as Vitamins A,C,D,K, potassium, phosphorous, iron, sulfur, and calcium which are key nutrients needed for conception and a healthy pregnancy. Drinking an infusion of nettle is the best way to get the most benefits out of nettle.
You can get nettles here.
For women over forty, the single best remedy for conception even when there are issues such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts is an infusion of red clover blossom. The word infusion is the key to success here as simply taking a capsule, tincture, or tea of red clover won’t yield the same results. Learn how to make an herbal infusion here.
Red clover blossom is rich in estrogen-like compounds that promote fertility in women who have low estrogen levels. It also helps regulate overall hormone levels, purifies the blood, increases cervical mucus, and tones the smooth muscles of the uterus.
To use red clover blossom make an infusion and drink 2-4 cups per day. This infusion tastes a lot like black tea and can be used to increase a woman’s fertility no matter what her age.
You can get red clover blossoms here.
Red Raspberry Leaf
Raspberry leaf is a phenomenal uterine tonic. It strengthens and tones the uterine walls and muscles of the pelvic region making it perfect for pregnancy preparation. It’s loaded with minerals that help strengthen the blood and prepare the uterus for birth. It’s one of my favorite fertility promoting herbs. You can get it here in bulk or as a tea here.
Siberian ginseng is great for those who tend to run cold (cold hands and feet) and need their vitality boosted. Siberian ginseng improves overall health and vitality while regulating hormones and is also a great adaptogen for stress.
Have a care when taking Siberian ginseng if you take prescription medications. You can get it here.
Vitex (Chaste Tree Berry)
This herb is really great for balancing the hormones associated with ovulation. It is especially indicated for women who have irregular menstrual cycles, failed ovulation, or short luteal phases. It is known to help stimulate the release of LH and promote healthy ovulation, sometimes sooner, therefore increasing the chance of conception.
This herb contains a bioidentical form of progesterone making it great for use during the luteal phase of your cycle (right after ovulation until your next period). Progesterone is especially important during this time as it keeps the uterine wall in optimal condition for egg implantation to occur.
This is my favorite wild yam cream to use for balancing progesterone.
Recommended Reading for Women’s Fertility
It’s important to really get to know fertility and how it’s affected. Here are some of the best books I’ve come across for women’s fertility:
The Best Herbs for Male Infertility
Taking Charge of Your Fertility
Honoring Our Cycles: A Natural Family Planning Workbook
The Infertility Cure: The Ancient Chinese Wellness Program for Getting Pregnant and Having Healthy Babies
Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods
Moon Time: A guide to celebrating your menstrual cycle
What have been your favorite herbal remedies for fertility? Please share below!
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